FLORENCE, Ore. (CN) - Gray wolves may be removed from Oregon's endangered species list soon - depending on a decision the state Fish and Wildlife Commission will announce on Nov. 9.
Fish and Wildlife biologists on Friday briefed the commission on the expansion of the wolf population in Oregon. The commission also heard lengthy public testimony on both sides of the contentious issue.
The state's Oct. 9 report , "Updated Biological Status Review for the Gray Wolf in Oregon and Evaluation of Delisting Criteria," indicates that the wolves have recovered sufficiently to be downgraded from endangered.
The state's wolf plan requires Fish and Wildlife to consider delisting gray wolves when the population in eastern Oregon reaches four breeding pairs for three consecutive years.
A breeding pair consists of an adult male, an adult female and at least two pups that survive past Dec. 31 of their first year of life.
Gray wolves migrated from Idaho to eastern Oregon in 2009, for the first time since the last native Oregon wolf was killed for a bounty in 1946.
In 2014, state biologists documented 10 wolf packs in Oregon, including nine breeding pairs and 81 individual wolves, triggering consideration of delisting.
Eight of those pairs are in eastern Oregon. The ninth, part of the Rogue Pack, began when a loan wolf, named OR7 by scientists, left the Imnaha pack in eastern Oregon in 2011 and traveled alone to California. It returned to southern Oregon and found a mate in 2014.
Unlike OR7, his mate didn't have a radio collar during her travels, so scientists couldn't track her migration across the state. But genetic tests showed she is related to wolves from two other eastern Oregon packs, the Snake River and Minam wolf packs.
Scientists said the state's population and range are likely to continue to increase. Even if wolves are removed from the endangered species list in Oregon, the state's wolf plan will offer them similar protection.
Fish and Wildlife Commission Chairman Michael Finley acknowledged the heat on both sides of the debate before opening the floor to comments from about 50 members of the public.
"We are not making our decision based on emotion, we are making it on facts," Finley said. "We have to follow the law and policy."
The commission is to announce its decision at its next meeting, on Nov. 9.
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